Closely following the markings on the silk yarn, Arunima ties a white thread over the marked lines. Black, thin sheets of rubber rolls lie beside her. The thread and rubber should be tied properly so as to ensure that the colors won't spread to that part of the yarn.
On November 16, 2021, Arunima's village, Bhoodan Pochampally in Yadadri Buvanagari district was declared as one of the best tourism villages by the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO). She asks, "Woh kya hai, mujhe pata nahi (I don't know about it)."
Unlike Arunima, Bhanu, the owner of the Balaram Handlooms is aware of the international recognition and is hopeful. "Yes, it will be beneficial. We have to wait and see for the next two-three months," he says.
In most of the families in Pochampally, all the members are completely engaged in weaving and production of sarees throughout their lives.
Bhanu went to school till the 10th standard. He has been into the family business of Pochampally saree-making since childhood. "I have never seen my home locked. Somebody or the other will always be working inside," he funnily remarks.
From 5 looms to 50 looms, his business has widely expanded in the last couple of years. "My father had 4 to 5 looms, but when I and my brother took over, we started more looms," explains Bhanu.
Apart from his mother, wife, and brother, he also has 10-20 employees engaged in the saree-making process. The women working at the loom get around Rs 6500 whereas men are paid double the amount, around Rs. 12,000. "Men do more exhausting work like boiling the hard, raw silk in hot water for more than two hours to make it softer," justifies Bhanu.
One of the biggest issues faced by the Pochampally weavers is the lack of availability of cheap raw silk. Before Covid-19, weavers in Pochampally obtained raw silk priced at Rs 2500 from China and Bangalore. But with the Centre's `Make in India' initiative and a ban on the import of Chinese silk, Bangalore has become the sole seller and as a result, the rates are double now, around Rs.5000.
"As a result, saree prices have also gone up. The starting price for Pochampally silk sarees was around Rs. 5000 but now it has increased to Rs.7000," adds Bhanu.
"We have lost our old customers also. They are complaining that the prices were much less previously," says Bhanu.
Despite paying a higher amount for the raw material, the weavers are unable to get the best out of it. "When we boil to make it softer, almost 30% of the raw material is lost," says Bhanu.
Traditional turns global, thanks to technology
Like Bhanu, there are many other big handloom owners in Pochampally. One among them is Surapally Ramu who owns 100 looms in the area. Each loom is given to a family to take care of. When the families complete making the sarees, they give them back to Ramu who sells them at `Nakshatra Ikkat House'.
It's Ramu's wedding two days later, so he has appointed Shiva and Rajesh to manage the sales in the shop. Rajesh and Shiva sit amidst the colorful silk and cotton Pochampally sarees in the shop.
"Search on Google and you can see all varieties of Pochampally sarees on your mobile phone," says Rajesh.
Till three years back, things were not going so great for the weavers. "In every family, at least two people committed suicide as they were unable to find their daily food," says Rajesh.
What changed their lives were the students living in the area. They started popularizing the product digitally and orders started flooding Pochampally from customers across the world. "The DTDC courier service nearby has a minimum of 1000 orders every single day," says Shiva.
The digital promotion didn't just increase the demand for the sarees but also ensured better, faster pay for the weavers. "Usually, individual weavers completed the saree-making process at home and sold them to the nearby shops. These shop people pay them only after the sarees are sold and there is a lot of delay in the payment of their salaries," explains Rajesh.
"With online buying and selling, the weavers can connect with the customers directly and in just a click, the order is made and the payment is done," he adds.
"Kuch bhi nahi," says Anjalu, Manager of Pochampally Weavers Cooperative Society.
As per the weavers, currently, there are two functional schemes implemented by the KCR government to support the handloom weavers of Pochampally- Thrift Fund Saving and Security Scheme (TFSSS), and yarn subsidy.
According to Nethanna Ku Cheyutha Scheme or Telanagana Handloom Weavers Thrift Fund Saving and Security Scheme (TFSSS), the weavers deposit a certain amount every month for three years at the end of which the government pays them to double the amount that they deposited.
The scheme applies to all the weavers engaged in the weaving handloom activity and pre-weaving or preparatory activities like dyeing, designing, warping, winding, sizing, etc.
"It is very useful as we get twice the amount after three years," says Bhanu.
However, most of the weavers in the area feel that they are not getting enough support from the government. "We were running at a complete loss during Covid-19 and we didn't get any support from the government," says Rajesh.
"It was very hard during Covid-19. Sales were hit badly. The cooperative society gave me raw material and I gave them back the finished product. We didn't get any support from the government," says another weaver.
"Ten years ago, there were several government schemes for the weavers but now the government has removed everything else and is implementing just two schemes," says Anjalu.
In the two existing schemes, yarn subsidy is reportedly not fully benefitting the weavers. "There exist a lot of problems in the online scheme and hence the weavers are not getting the money in their accounts," adds Anjalu.